Mysteries on the cozier side of crime

They were supposed to be his golden years. But he’s much happier with something to do… like solve a murder.

Former Detective Sergeant Norman Norman’s retirement is boring him to tears. So when he’s asked to assist an upcoming female DI and mentor a new team of misfits in a sleepy Welsh coastal town, he jumps at the opportunity to lend his expertise. But the training has barely begun when a woman’s corpse washes up on the sand.

With no reports of missing persons, DS Norman is stumped… until the post-mortem reveals a shocking hint to the culprit being local. But with a growing list of suspects who all have iron-clad alibis, the experienced cop and his fledgling team’s first case could be their last.

Will DS Norman’s reinvigorated career end in a fizzer, or can he help his young charges nab a devious killer?

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Excellent read. No dismal gore, alcoholic detectives or sadistic abductions. Just a great story line and some totally believable characters. Well written.

Chapter One

Monday 14th October 2019

King’s Head public house, Llangwelli, West Wales.

It was 10.30 pm, and Kimberley Lawrence was angry and drunk. Not the steaming, no idea what you’re doing, sort of drunk, but enough to make her throw her usual caution to the wind. She had no qualms about flirting with the handsome young guy at the bar and certainly wouldn’t say no if he wanted what she was hoping he wanted. But, usually, she would be a little more discreet and wait until her friends had all gone home. Tonight, though, she didn’t give a damn.

She’d had yet another blazing row with her useless husband earlier and, frankly, she rather hoped he found out what she was about to do. Perhaps it would finally make him sit up and take notice if it got back to him that she had been openly flirting with some young stallion in their local pub. She knew the young guy was up for it; he’d been watching her for quite some time now, and she’d made sure she had done enough to encourage him. 

Experience told her he was there for the taking. She probably had a dozen years on him but she knew she was in great shape, and it was a fact that lots of these young guys liked an older, married woman because in all probability there would be no commitment involved. It would be a simple case of “wham, bam, thank you ma’am”, and that suited Kimberley perfectly.

She looked at her three friends gathered around the table. They were talking kids stuff as usual. Kimberley had no children and always found these conversations annoying. She forced a smile as she pushed her chair back and reached for her bag. 

‘Right then, who wants another drink?’

Her three friends declined. They’d had enough and were thinking about going home.

‘Just me, then,’ said Kimberley, rising from her chair and heading for the bar.

‘She’s starting early tonight,’ said Pippa Roberts, nodding towards the bar. ‘She normally waits until we’ve gone before she starts flirting.’

‘She told me she and Greg had a huge row before they came out. That’s why she’s drinking like a fish,’ confided Ruth Evans. ‘The problem is it tends to loosen her knicker elastic.’

‘She doesn’t need a drink for that,’ said Pippa. ‘She probably isn’t wearing any!’

‘It’ll be the young guy with the dark hair,’ said Abbey Moore. ‘She’s been making eyes at him for at least half an hour.’

‘She thinks we’re that stupid we don’t know,’ said Pippa.

‘Do you think Greg knows?’ asked Abbey.

Greg Lawrence was Kimberley’s husband.

‘Of course, he knows,’ said Pippa. ‘The whole village knows.’

‘But why does he put up with it?’ asked Abbey.

‘I asked my husband that question. He says Greg knows but doesn’t want to believe it. He’s clinging on to some crazy idea that she’s suddenly going to change and they’ll ride off into the sunset together and live happily ever after.’

‘That’s a bit pathetic, don’t you think?’ asked Abbey.

They looked across to the bar where Kimberley only had eyes for the young man.

‘Come on,’ said Ruth, pushing her chair back. ‘If she’s going to screw him I’d rather not know. I like Kim, but I hate it when she plays the tart.’

Obediently the other two gathered their things and followed her from the bar. The three friends had to pass Kimberley as they left, but she only had eyes for her new friend and ignored them even though they said goodbye and offered her a lift home as they passed.

Chapter Two

Tuesday 15th October 2019

Office of Slater & Norman, Private Investigators, Tinton, Hampshire, England.

The tall man stepped from his car and looked around. There were only half a dozen businesses on the site, so it was quite easy to spot the premises he was seeking. “Slater & Norman”, he read on a small placard attached to the wall. Then, as he approached, he could see the legend, “Private Investigators” was etched on the glass of the door. The man shook his head as he read the sign, then knocked and waited. 

After a minute no-one had answered, and he considered knocking a second time. Then he thought better of it, grabbed the door handle, twisted and pushed. As the door slowly opened the left-hand side of the room came into view. Two comfortable chairs stood either side of a small table. A carrier bag full of shopping filled one of the chairs. Without stepping into the room, he pushed the door open a little further and peered around it at the other side of the room.

A desk was doing its best to survive under two enormous piles of newspapers. Beyond, the object of the man’s search was leaning back in an office chair, feet up on the desk before him. He had his hands behind his head, and his eyes closed. Large headphones covered his ears, and anyone could see he was enjoying his listening. 

The visitor entered the room and coughed loudly, but the reclining listener was oblivious. He walked across the room and coughed again, but again there was no response, so he walked around the desk, tapped the reclining man on the shoulder and called out.

‘Hey, Norm!’

Deep in the embrace of Led Zeppelin’s first album, the man called Norm nearly had a seizure as he jerked back into the present, inadvertently creating a slow-motion avalanche of newspapers that began to spill across the desk and onto the floor.

‘Holy crap!’ he yelled, snatching off the headphones. ‘You could have given me a heart attack. Don’t you knock?’

‘I did knock, several times, but you didn’t answer.’

Norman realised this might not be the best way to greet a potential client but then was suddenly distracted by the impending avalanche. Hurriedly he reached forward to try to stop it, but his clumsy effort only helped sweep the rest of the papers across the desk towards his visitor.

‘Shit,’ he hissed as he jumped from his chair, but he was too late to stop the last newspaper disappearing over the edge of his desk. 

‘Dammit!’ 

He hurried around the desk and sank to his knees at his visitor’s feet trying to gather up the newspapers tidily, finally conceding defeat and scrabbling them into a heap which he then carried behind his desk and dumped on the floor.

‘I’ll sort them out later,’ he muttered, turning back to his visitor.

‘I’m sorry about that,’ he said, extending a hand. ‘My name’s Norman Norman.’

He hadn’t noticed the man’s face before, but now as he looked his visitor in the eye, his mouth dropped open.

‘Jeez! Nathan Bain? Where the hell did you come from?’

The man called Bain looked distastefully at Norman’s hand, now grubby with newspaper ink, then reluctantly extended an arm, shook hands, and grinned.

‘How are you Norm?’ he said. ‘Still working in a mess, I see.’

‘I’m great,’ said Norman. ‘You’re not looking too bad yourself.’

‘I heard you had a new woman in your life.’

Norman grimaced.

‘Yeah, well, “had” is the word,’ he said, sadly. ‘I’m afraid it didn’t work out.’

‘Oh, I’m sorry.’

‘Shit happens, right?’ said Norman. ‘It was a complicated situation for everyone, and in the end it just, well, you know, right? Anyway, what brings Inspector Bain to this neck of the woods?’

‘It’s Superintendent Bain, now, Norm. I thought it best if I came in person.’

Norman could see this was supposed to mean something significant, but for the life of him, he couldn’t think what it was.

‘Er, right. Well, you don’t have to worry. I can assure you of my discretion at all times. Your secret will be safe with me.’

Bain looked stung.

‘Secret? What secret?’

‘Hey, look, don’t get alarmed,’ said Norman. ‘What I mean is, whatever you want me to investigate will stay between you and me.’

‘Investigate? For me?’

‘That’s what you’re here for, isn’t it?’

‘You’re serious, aren’t you?’ asked Bain.

Norman scratched his head through his unruly curls.

‘Well, why else would you be here? I mean, this is a detective agency.’

Bain looked slowly round the untidy office.

‘Really?’ he said.

‘I’ll admit it’s a bit of a mess right now, but I’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to tidy up.’

‘You don’t look busy, and frankly, if I were a potential client, I would take one look around here and head straight back out again.’

‘It’s my day off,’ said Norman, hastily. ‘I took a day off so I could clean up. I was psyching myself up with some inspirational tunes before I start.’

Bain grinned.

‘You always had a way with words. An answer for everything and a deflection from any situation.’

‘What d’you mean?’

‘You honestly have no idea why I’m here, have you?’

Norman stared at Bain’s face as if for inspiration, but nothing came to mind.

‘Okay, I give up,’ he said. ‘You’ll have to give me a clue.’

‘You were sent a letter about re-joining the police and resuming your duties as a detective sergeant. I sent it out personally.’

A light switched on in Norman’s head.

‘Jeez, that was weeks ago.’

‘It was a month ago.’

‘Yeah, that’s what I said, it was weeks ago. I seem to recall the letter said you would be following up. I heard nothing, so I assumed that meant you must’ve changed your mind.’

‘You know how it is. These things take time. We only have one vacancy, and we had a lot of applicants.’

Norman frowned.

‘Seriously?’

‘These jobs are in demand, you know.’

Norman snorted.

‘Yeah, right. If there are so many others to choose from, why are you here?’

‘I just want to make sure you understand the opportunity.’

Norman studied Bain for a moment, and then his face broke into a grin.

‘Ha! I get it,’ he said. ‘What you mean is you’re here in person because no-one else wanted to know, and I’m your last resort.’ 

‘What I mean is I didn’t consider anyone else. You are the person I want for this job.’

Norman was both flattered and surprised.

‘Really? I find that hard to believe. I mean, why me?’ 

‘Can we sit down?’ asked Bain. ‘I’ve got a dodgy knee. It aches if I stand for too long.’

Norman pointed to the two chairs across the room.

‘Sure, why not. I’ve got nothing else to do right now.’

‘I thought you said you were busy.’

‘Yeah, I did,’ agreed Norman, thinking fast. ‘I also said I had taken the day off. Ergo, I am not busy today.’

He led the way to the two chairs, removed the shopping, and indicated the other chair. Bain sat down opposite Norman, clicked open his briefcase and picked out a folder which he kept on his lap.

‘D’you seriously think you can persuade me to join you?’ asked Norman.

‘Wouldn’t it be better than kicking your heels here?’

‘We do alright,’ said Norman.

‘That’s not what I understand.’

‘Well maybe you’re not as well informed as you think,’ said Norman.

Bain put his hands together and steepled his fingers.

‘Let’s see if I’m right,’ he said. ‘Your last job involved finding out what happened to a young girl who died in a road accident.’

‘Correct! And if the police had done their job properly, that would have been cleared up at the time.’

Bain nodded his head.

‘You’re probably right about that, but my point is if that was your last job, it was months ago. What have you done since then?’

Norman shifted in his chair and folded his arms.

‘I keep busy.’

Bain smiled ruefully.

‘Your body language is letting you down.’

Norman hastily uncrossed his arms.

‘Look, I have a business, and I have a business partner.’

‘Ah yes, the former Detective Sergeant Slater.’

‘His last position was Detective Inspector,’ argued Norman.

‘Yeah, for a few weeks,’ agreed Bain. ‘Where is he now?’

‘He’s on vacation.’

‘With another former DI, I understand.’

Norman bristled.

‘Stella Robbins had to retire through stress,’ he said. ‘It wasn’t her fault some nut job decided to ambush her in her car.’

‘You don’t need to defend her reputation,’ said Bain. ‘I wasn’t implying anything. I’ve seen her record, and I can assure you I have the highest regard for her abilities. What happened was a tragedy for her and her career.’

‘Anyway,’ said Norman. ‘What’s the problem with them going away together. They’re both adults, and they’re both single.’

‘It’s not who Slater’s with that’s the issue,’ said Bain. ‘The point is he’s gone and left it all down to you, again. It’s not the first time, is it?’

Norman couldn’t keep the surprise from his face.

‘What?’ asked Bain. 

‘You seem to be damned well informed. Have you been spying on us?’

‘Norm, when we worked together in the Met, I had the highest regard for you. I would never have let them crap on you the way they did if I had still been around. I kept an eye out for you after that. I was the guy who recommended you to Bob Murray.’

‘You got me the job in Tinton?’

‘Your record got you the job. I just suggested you would be a good fit.’

‘So you have been spying on me.’

‘I’ve been looking out for you. It’s not the same thing. Anyway, I had to check you out before I approached you. Wouldn’t you do the same?’

‘Well, yeah, I suppose,’ said Norman. ‘But it won’t make any difference. I’m not going to let my partner down.’

Bain looked hard at Norman.

‘I admire your loyalty, but don’t you think it might be a little misplaced?’

‘What do you mean, misplaced?’

‘Well, now let me see. How many times have you and Slater started this business? What is it now, twice? Three times?’

‘I’m not sure I’m following,’ said Norman.

‘Well, correct me if I’m wrong, but the first time, didn’t you start a business, and then he left when he was head-hunted to become DI? He didn’t worry about his loyalty to you and your business then, did he?’

‘It was a good opportunity for him.’

‘Which he subsequently wasted. He has a habit of losing his rag and throwing all his toys out of the pram, doesn’t he?’

‘He was affected by his father’s death much more than he realised. In hindsight, he probably should have taken a much longer break before he came back to work.’

‘My point is he did it before, didn’t he? How long do you think it will be before he does it again?’

Norman was beginning to feel uncomfortable.

‘He’ll be fine. He just needed a break. Now he’s got someone he cares about he’ll be a lot better.’

‘So, you agree he has a problem.’

‘I didn’t say that.’

‘Not in so many words,’ agreed Bain. ‘And what about Slater and Stella? D’you think they’re serious? I understand Slater has a habit of discarding women at the drop of a hat.’

‘It’s not like that. Dave has, or at least, had, a problem with commitment. But this thing with Stella is different.’

‘D’you think there’s going to be a wedding in Thailand? I hear it’s a beautiful place to get married.’

‘Nah, he would have told me,’ said Norman. 

‘Are you sure? He’s unpredictable, so it has to be a possibility, don’t you think?’

Norman felt slightly nauseated. He and Slater were supposed to be best mates. Surely he would want Norm to be at his wedding? Wouldn’t he? Who else would be his best man?

‘You say he has changed, and maybe you’re right, and Stella is for keeps,’ said Bain. ‘That’ll be another test for his loyalty towards you.’

‘I don’t want to hear any more of this,’ said Norman. ‘You’re just trying to drive a wedge between my best friend and me. I think you should leave.’

Bain took the folder from his lap and held it out to Norman, but he didn’t reach for it, so Bain placed it carefully on the small table between the chairs.

‘You said Slater leaving to become a DI was a good opportunity. What I’m offering is a better opportunity. I have some great young officers, but I need someone with experience to get the best out of them. And I promise you it’s a beautiful place. It’ll be a new start for you.’

‘Who says I need a new start?’

‘At least read through the folder and see what I’m offering.’

‘You’re wasting your time. I’m not turning my back on my best friend.’

Bain sighed.

‘The problem, Norm, is that Slater only has one best friend, and that’s himself. You’re wasting all that experience and ability here. You need to start looking out for yourself, Norm.’

‘When I had a heart attack, he saved my life.’

‘I heard the heart attack happened because you were fighting with him.’

‘It wasn’t like that. I was trying to stop him from doing something stupid in the heat of the moment.’

As Bain’s face broke into a grin, Norman realised what he was saying.

‘Which illustrates my point, entirely, don’t you agree? said Bain.

‘You can say what you like,’ said Norman. ‘I’m not deserting my partner.’

Bain sighed.

‘I’m sorry you feel that way,’ he said. ‘But perhaps, when you’ve had a chance to think about it, you’ll reconsider.’

‘No chance,’ said Norman.

Bain took a card from his pocket and placed it on the table next to the folder. Then he stood up and headed for the door.

‘Read the folder, Norm,’ he said. ‘I’ll be waiting for your call.’

‘Yeah, you do that,’ said Norman. 

Norman watched as Bain pulled the door closed behind him, then he turned his attention to the folder.

‘New start? Who the hell does he think he is telling me I need a new start?’ he muttered. 

As he thought about his life right now, and the things Bain had pointed out, an uncomfortable truth began to dawn on him. Tinton had been a new start when he had arrived, but now, with no business, no partner, and no-one in his life, he had to admit it wasn’t working out the way he had hoped, was it? Maybe a new start wasn’t such a bad idea after all. 

He placed the folder on his lap, flipped it open and began to read.

Books in The Rejoiner series

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